Monday, December 19, 2011

Guest Blog Post: Swapper Vanessa Spices It Up with Two Recipes

I know we're still here in 2011, but I tell you, I'm ready for 2012. As proof, I'm kicking off a new year progression right now. Going forward I'll be shooting to once or twice a month mix it up here on the blog by featuring profiles of swappers, as well as guest blog posts by fellow swappers and swap hosts. What better way to extend and connect the food swapper community, right?

Vanessa's sweet, spicy & salty swappables
So I am thrilled to kick this shiny new gig off with a guest blog post by Vanessa Vichit-Vadakan. Her first time at SF Swappers was a couple weeks ago for our Holiday Swap, and she ooo'd and ahhh'd the crowd with a great array of sweet, spicy and salty items. So, without further ado, I'll turn it over to Vanessa to tell you about what she made and to share not one, but two (!) recipes with you. And both of them will add a little extra spice to your holidays. Joyfulness!


Like a lot of people, I perk right up at the announcement of an upcoming food swap.  The day can’t come fast enough, and I can’t wait to see what goodies my fellow swappers will bring.  But the hardest part of swapping for me comes right after the initial excitement subsides and I have to decide what I’m actually going to make, that moment when I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities, when I realize I can make pretty much anything I want.  Anything!  That’s a lot of possibilities!

Lucky for me I can instantly rule canning anything because, well, I never learned to can.  I’m always tempted to bake because I love to bake, but right around the holidays, it seems that people are already inundated with baked goods.  I’m reluctant to make anything that has to be refrigerated because even though I’m meticulous about food handling safety and I’m more than happy to swap for someone else’s fresh salsa, I just get too paranoid that I’m going to poison someone, which would make me sad.

I want to make something that above all is delicious, of course, but I also think about what I can make that is interesting, maybe something that people might not want to put together themselves because the recipe might require too many ingredients or make more than they want, things that would make me excited to see on another swapper’s table.  For sure I think about what’s seasonal and what someone else might not bring, especially if they bring the same thing and it turns out to be tastier.  That would be like showing up at a party wearing the same clothes as another guest and having other person look waaay better in the outfit.  Yipes!

For the recent December swap, I thought of warming flavors for the chilly season.  Hot peppers came to mind, and I thought of togarashi, the Japanese chile condiment.  Last summer I air-dried some cayenne peppers that I’d picked up from Full Belly Farm at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market and used them as the base, grinding them just for the occasion.  There’s a good amount of variation in togarashi recipes, which vary in proportions as well as ingredients; some recipes call for hemp seeds or poppy seeds and some leave out the garlic or seaweed, but technically, "shimichi togarashi" refers to using seven ingredients.  My version takes a slight detour in that it actually uses eight ingredients and has a smaller proportion of chiles to the other ingredients than most versions I’ve seen (my chiles were quite strong).  There is a lot of room for tinkering with this recipe, and I do not claim it to be anything that your Japanese mother would call authentic, but it’ll warm you up and give your food a tasty kick.

Spicy Candied Ginger
I also made candied ginger for its warmth and presence in winter baking.  In most recipes I saw, the directions were to boil and drain the ginger a couple of times before giving it a simple syrup bath, but I decided I wanted to go with as much intense ginger flavor as I could get, so I skipped the leaching process and went straight for the simple syrup step.  The end result is a super spicy, biting candied ginger that is ideal for use in baking but not so much for eating straight (unless you really enjoy the burn).  A little goes a long way, so cut it up small before you add it to your gingerbread batter.  It works as a great way to sweeten and flavor tea and apple cider as well.

Many thanks to Aimée and Stephanie for all the organization and work they put into getting the swaps together and for sharing their corner of the Internet with me.  I hope to catch you all at the next swap!

Jook topped with togarashi

Try sprinkling on eggs

Hachimi Togarashi
or Eight-Spice Japanese Chile Seasoning

Togarashi is great in ramen or miso.  Sprinkle it on rice, French fries, or popcorn.  It also works well as a dry rub for meats.

1 tsp Szechuan/sansho peppercorn
1 tsp black peppercorn
1 tsp dried minced garlic
1 tsp dried orange peel
2 TB ground cayenne pepper
2 tsp flaked nori or dulse
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp black sesame seeds

Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, grind the peppercorns, garlic, and orange peel to a medium grind.  Combine well with the rest of the ingredients and store in an air-tight container.  

Spicy Candied Ginger (plus bonus by-products!)
Makes 3-4 cups

Peeling your ginger
To peel ginger, I find it helpful to gently pull apart the ginger at its natural branches, working with a sharp paring knife, though some people swear by the method where you take a spoon with a bowl that has a narrow tip and scrape the ginger with the concave side of the tip facing down to remove the skin. To make a less intense candied ginger, boil the raw pieces of ginger for about 15 minutes and drain them before adding them to the sugar and water.

1 pound fresh, organic ginger
2 cups filtered water
4 cups organic granulated sugar

Peel the ginger. Slice the ginger into rounds not more than 1/4-inch thick. You can make coins or you can cut on more of a diagonal to get longer strips.

Place the ginger, water, and 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer for 60-90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ginger becomes slightly opaque and slightly softened (but not soft). If the level of liquid gets low, add a little more water.

Remove the ginger from the heat and allow it to cool until it’s cool enough to touch. Place the remaining 2 cups of sugar in a bowl and line a large baking sheet with waxed paper. Use a slotted spoon to scoop up a few pieces of ginger, draining off the liquid. Toss the ginger in the sugar until it is very well coated, then place the ginger on the baking sheet in a single layer. Repeat with the rest of the ginger.

Finished product out to dry
Leave the ginger to air dry for about a day, flipping the pieces over once. Store in an air-tight container.

You’ll have leftover ginger syrup which can be stored in the refrigerator. Mix with soda water and a splash of fresh lime juice to make a refreshing ginger soda, or use it in cocktails or drizzle it on your oatmeal. If you have leftover sugar, it will now be lightly gingery. You can use that sugar for tea, tossed with fruit for a filling, toast (think: cinnamon toast but with ginger!), or on yogurt.


All photos by Vanessa with exception of swap table and sliced ginger close-up (taken by me).

1 comment:

  1. Great post Aimee and Vanessa! See you at the next swap! ~Stephanie